ON Monday, Zimbabwe turns 42 after gaining independence in 1980. This is a huge moment, a moment that needs reflection on have we met independence aspirations? If not, what held the country back? The answer is always simple — it’s leadership, stupid.
When Zimbabwe got independent, it had a fairly sophisticated and diversified economy second only to South Africa in sub-Saharan Africa. It had a fairly developed manufacturing sector, well-maintained roads, functional schools, functional health centres, an efficient rail system and a developed banking system.
All construction was planned and approved before it commenced. All the off-site infrastructure had to be in place before the houses or factories were put up. It had nice tarred roads and potable water.
It has to be admitted, the economy then was set up to benefit the minority white people. This has been well argued in the book The Dual enclave. Historian Walter Rodney in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa argues in one poignant line saying: “All roads and railways led to the sea.”
The quotation is powerful. It speaks to how the economy was structured. It was connected to the colonial power. The colonies had to supply raw materials fed into industries in the colonial powers’ cities.
Andre Gunder Frank also raises an important point on development when he postulated about the “metropole and satellite” theory.
However, with nearly half a century of independence we could be doing better. What has failed us? It’s leadership, stupid! This is well argued in the book Why Nations Fail?
This seminal book argues countries may have the same geography, same climate, mineral resources, but still remain poor. The author argues the only factor that makes the difference is leadership.
It may be important to look at Zimbabwe’s leadership. Who has led us and what were their big ideas on development?
The late former President Robert Mugabe was at the helm for 37 years with his Zanu PF party.
In the post-independence honeymoon phase, Mugabe expanded education and health services to the citizens. He built new clinics and hospitals, new primary schools, technical colleges and universities. He gave people houses under home ownership schemes.
This redistribution of wealth, while welcome, was not enough. Zimbabwe did not build a national bourgeoisie class as argued by Frantz Fanon in his book The Wretched of the Earth.
The economy remained steeped in the hands of multinational companies and a coterie of foreign investors.
Things were made worse by adopting International Monetary Fund (IMF) economic reforms, popularly known as Economic Structural Adjustment Programme.
Under this economic policy, Zimbabwe was forced to sell the family silver — privatising State-owned companies. Privatisation did not improve the quality of lives for the majority. Companies were closed and employees laid off in thousands.
The few blacks who benefited from indigenisation have largely been usurpers or corrupt business who thrived on speculation and rent seeking behaviour than production.
It has to be emphasised that collectively, Zanu PF has failed. It failed to renew its leadership peacefully in 37 years. It needed a coup to remove Mugabe from power.
This renewal was not a root and branch change. It recycled the deadwood. It recycled the same neoliberal IMF policies of privatisation.
No one has thought like Captain Thomas Sankara that development had to be made from inside not reliance on foreigners. That development is not achieved by privatisation whose only motive is profit.
It is clear that Zimbabwe needs a new leadership with new economic policies, not the oversold neoliberalism.
Zimbabwe needs to have a robust and candid debate on what economic policies to adopt, which industries should never be privatised and above all, how to harness its human capital for development.
While we celebrate this day, a day of our independence, we have to revisit the vision of our liberators and try to live to those ideals and where necessary make changes for the greater good of our citizens.
Happy Independence Day.